03/21/05 — Trojans in Hoop Heaven

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Trojans in Hoop Heaven

By Neil Fuller
Published in News on March 21, 2005 1:51 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- When former Goldsboro High School player Victor Young decided to continue his basketball career at Mount Olive College, he thought the idea of the Trojans advancing into the NCAA Division II Elite Eight was a dream at best.

And who could blame him?

No school as small as Mount Olive -- with a student body under 2,000 on the main campus -- had ever come so close to winning a Division II national title. For that matter, the Trojans were still playing NAIA basketball, a step below the NCAA, well into the 1990s.

But today's reality has Mount Olive with a record of 29 wins and four losses, just three wins away from the national small-college championship.

And Young was in hoops heaven as he and his teammates prepared for their Elite Eight debut -- scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m., local time, against Bryant University of Rhode Island. The games will be in Grand Forks, N.D.

"Everybody is surprised that Mount Olive is going to the Elite Eight," said Young, now a junior guard for the Trojans. "People from around here and all over are surprised. This is big for Mount Olive, because no school our size has ever made it this far.

"When we look up in the stands at that arena in North Dakota and see people from back home that have come all that way to support us, that will be great. That will be real good."

Many Wayne County residents will have to stay home due to the distance and costly air fare -- roundtrip airplane tickets from Raleigh-Durham to Grand Forks have now reached over $1,100 -- support for the Mount Olive program has surged.

And it's not just because the Trojans are winning.

"The community is very proud of this team," said Tommy Turner, owner of the Buddy's Jewelry chain. "The people that follow this team know what a good group of young guys they are. You get to know them, and they're all fine young men. I've just been really impressed with these players and their attitudes."

It has been a whirlwind of a season. Already, Mount Olive has achieved its highest-ever national ranking -- number 13 -- captured a share of the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference regular-season championship and set a school record for wins.

Mount Olive coach Bill Clingan says his team understands what being on the national stage is all about. The Trojans will be looking to represent not only their own campus in the playoffs, but all of Wayne County and the surrounding area.

"I would say that throughout this entire season that the team has wanted to make people in the area proud," Clingan said.

"They want Mount Olive to stand out. Any time that you play for a championship, there's not doubt that you're putting your community back on the map."

It's that kind of mentality that has so many locals turning their attention away from the early stages of the mega-hyped NCAA Division I tournament in order to show their loyalty to Mount Olive.

To many in Wayne County, the Trojans are now practically family.

"I just know that Bill Clingan recruits for his system, but also for his community," said Greg Eloshway, senior vice president of Southern Bank in Mount Olive. "Bill is a good person and a good human being -- that comes first. He's a family man. His family extends to his players.

"We've got a quality coach. We've got a quality team. Now we just need to support them. These guys deserve it."

Support hasn't been much of a problem lately for the Trojans -- except in one case.

"It's every day now," Young said through a wide smile. "Every single day, somebody will call my parents asking about (Elite Eight) tickets. Ever since the night of the regional championship, people have been calling my parents asking for tickets. It's getting pretty hectic around my house now."

There are literally hundreds of collegiate basketball players sitting in their dorm rooms at this moment wishing they had such problems.